Petitot, John

, a celebrated painter, was born at Geneva in 1607, of a father who was a sculptor and architect, and who, after having passed part of his life in Italy, retired to that city. His son was designed to be a jeweller; and, by frequent employment in enamelling, acquired so fine a taste, and so precious a tone of colouring, that Bordier, who afterwards became his brother-in-law, advised him to attach himself to portrait, believing he might push his art on still to greater lengths; and though both the one and the other wanted several colours which they could not bring to bear the fire, yet they succeeded to admiration. Petitot painted the heads and hands, in which his colouring was excellent; Bordier painted the hair, the draperies, and the grounds. These two friends, agreeing in their work and their projects, set out for Italy. The long stay they made there, frequenting the best chemists, joined to a strong desire of learning, improved them in the | preparation of their colours; but the completion of their success must be ascribed to a journey they afterwards made to England. There they found sir Theodore Mayerne, physician to Charles T. and a great chemist; who had by his experiments discovered the principal colours to be used for enamel, and the proper means of vitrifying them. These by their beauty surpassed all the enamelling of Venice and Limoges. Mayerne introduced Petitot, to the king, who retained him in his service, and gave him a lodging in Whitehall. Here he painted several portraits after Vandyck, in which he was guided by that excellent master, who was then in London; and his advice contributed greatly to the ability of Petitot, whose best pieces are after Vandyck. King Charles often went to see him work; as he took a pleasure both in painting and chemical experiments, to which his physician had given him a turn. Petitot painted that monarch and the whole royal family several times. The distinguished favour shewn him by that prince was only interrupted by his unhappy and tragical end. This was a terrible stroke to Petitot, who did not quit the royal family, but followed them in their flight to Paris, where he was looked on as one of their most zealous servants. During the four years that Charles II. stayed in France, he visited Petitot, and often eat with him. Then it was, that his name became eminent, and that all the court of France grew fond of being painted in enamel. When Charles II. returned to England, Louis XIV. retained Petitot in his service, gave him a pension, and a lodging in the gallery of the Louvre. These new favours, added to a considerable fortune he had already acquired, encouraged him to marry in 1661. Afterwards Bordier became his brother-in-law, and ever remained in a firm union with him: they lived together, till their families growing too numerous, obliged them to separate. Their friendship was founded on the harmony of their sentiments and their reciprocal merit, much more than a principle of interest. They had gained, as a reward for their discoveries and their labours, a million of livres, which they divided at Paris; and they continued friends without ever having a quarrel, or even a misunderstanding, in the space of fifty years.

Petitot copied at Paris several portraits of Mignard and Le Brun; yet his talent was not only copying a portrait with an exact resemblance, but also designing a head most perfectly after nature. To this he also joined a softness | and liveliness of colouring, which will never change, and will ever render his works valuable. He painted Louis XIV. Mary Anne of Austria his mother, and Mary Theresa his wife, several times. As he was a zealous protestant, and full of apprehensions at the revocation of the edict of Nantz in 1685, he demanded the king’s permission to retire to Geneva; who rinding him urgent, and fearing he should escape, cruelly caused him to be arrested, and sent to Fort l’Evque, where the bishop of Meaux was appointed to instruct him. Yet neither the eloquence of Bossuet, nor the terrors of a dungeon, could prevail. He was not convinced, but the vexation and confinement threw him into a fever; of which the king being informed, ordered him to released. He no sooner found himself at liberty, than he escaped with his wife to Geneva, after a residence at Paris of thirty -six years. His children remaining in that city, and fearing the king’s resentment, threw. themselves on his mercy, and implored his protection. The king received them favourably, and told them he could forgive an old man the whim of desiring to be buried with his fathers *.

When Petitot returned to his own country, he cultivated his art with great ardour, and had the satisfaction of preserving to the end of his life the esteem of all connoisseurs. The king and queen of Poland, desirous to have their pictures copied by Petitot, though then above eighty, sent the originals to Paris, believing him to be there. The gentleman who was charged with the commission went on to Geneva. The queen was represented on a trophy holding the king’s picture. As there were two heads in the same piece, they gave him a hundred louis d’ors; and he executed it as if he had been in the flower of his age. The concourse of his friends, and the resort of the curious who came to see him, was so great, that he was obliged to quit Geneva, and retire to Vevay, a little town in the canton of Berne, where he worked in quiet. He was about the


Lord Orford relates this in a maner very different from his usual flippancy where matters of religion are concerned. “His majesty,” says my author, " received them with great goodness, and told them, he willingly forgave an old man who bad a whim of being buried with his fathers. I do not doubt but this is given, and passed at the time, for a bon-mot, but a very flat witticism cannot depreciate the glory of a confessor, who had suffered imprisonment, resisted eloquence, and sacrificed the emoluments of court-favour to the uprightness of his conscience. Petitot did not wish to be buried with his fathers, but to die in their religion.'

| picture of his wife, when a distemper carried him off in one day, in 169J, aged eighty-four. His life was always exemplary, and his end was the same. He preserved his usual candour and ease of temper to his last hour. He had seventeen children by his marriage; but only one of his sons applied himself to painting, who settled in London. His father sent Jinn several of his works to serve him for models. This son died a good many years ago, and his family settled in Dublin, but whether any are now remaining we know not.

Petitot may be called the inventor of painting in enamel; for though Bordier, his brother-in-law, made several attempts before him, and sir Theodore Mayerne had facilitated the means of employing the most beautiful colours, it was still Peiitot who completed the work; which under his hand acquired such a degree of perfection, as to surpass miniature, and even equal painting in oil. He made use of gold and silver plates, and rarely enamelled on copper. When he first came in vogue, his price was twenty louts a-head, which he soon raised to forty. His custom was, to carry a painter with him, who painted the picture in oil; after which Petitot sketched out his work, which he always finished after the life. When he painted the king of France, he took those pictures that most resembled him for his patterns; and the king afterwards gave him a sitting or two to finish his work. He laboured with great assiduity, and never laid down his pencil but with reluct, ance; saying, that he always found new beauties in his art to charm him. 1


Biog. Brit. vol. VII, Supplement, Walpole’s Anecdotes,